Perhaps the most unusual thing about the female prepper lifestyle is that it suggests a counterintuitive movement through time: a return to a slower, more elemental way of life, one that eschews the conveniences of modern consumer society in favor of the empowerment that comes from doing things yourself. Some of the women I spoke to said being a prepper helped them carry on the same old-fashioned life skills — like gardening, canning, and smart budgeting — that helped their mothers and grandmothers during the Great Depression. Others harkened back to the homesteaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose pioneering settlement and cultivation of the Great Plains form the backbone of the American myth of self-reliance.
After 9/11, my dad filled a duffel bag with some energy bars, a couple gallons of water, some penicillin, and a map. Amid scaremongering headlines about imminent anthrax and “dirty bomb” attacks in the city, he wanted to have some supplies on hand in case we needed to get out of Brooklyn fast. Were he to assemble such a bag today, he’d likely stumble on a number of companies promising a more wholesale brand of disaster preparedness: a box full of shelf-stable freeze-dried meals, to be revived from their dessicated state with the addition of boiled water.